Recycling EV batteries could decrease lithium and cobalt mining

June 25, 2019

Experts say companies should recycle electric vehicle batteries to avoid massive increases in harmful mining, since these batteries are made from hard-to-mine metals like lithium and cobalt.

“We only mine a relatively small amount of lithium today,” Elsa Dominish, a senior research consultant at the University of Technology Sydney, told Popular Science. “In 2023, we’ll be using more for batteries for EVs and storage than what we mine today.”

Dominish says it’s possible to recover about 95% of lithium from recycling, but at this point, recyclers only recover higher-value metals like cobalt and nickel. EV batteries only last about 10 years, so recycled batteries could be an abundant source of lithium.

Indiana is in the middle of the pack for U.S. EV sales, with about 2,000 sales in 2018 and a sales increase of 94% from 2017 to 2018. Electric vehicle sales in the U.S. nearly doubled in 2018, making it important to find a way to minimize the environmental impacts of lithium collection.

Finding ways to decrease the volume of metal mining is especially important since the next wave of EV batteries are likely to be lithium-sulfur batteries, which use significantly more lithium than the lithium-ion batteries used today.

Recycling EV batteries could decrease lithium and cobalt mining